5 New Ways to Brain-Friendly Climate Communication.

“If we want to create a new green, social, fair and inclusive future we should make it more attractive in the short term for everyone to take part in it” says Psychologist and Economist Espen Stoknes. Building on a readily growing body of psychology and social science, he spent years looking into new ways of engaging us in changing our behaviour.

In his book and Ted talk he describes Five New Strategies on how we can flip the five inner defences over into key success criteria for a more brain-friendly climate communication. This new communication approach will make global issues feel more near, human, personal, urgent and show how we can act upon it.

Five Strategies Per Espon Stoknes

Five new main strategies for climate communication:

1 – Social – Use the power of social networks
2 – Supportive – Employ frames with positive emotions
3 – Simple – Make it easy and convenient
4 – Signals – Use indicators to give feedback on our improvements
5 – Story-Based – Use the power of stories to create meaning

1 – Social

We can make climate feel near, personal and urgent by bringing it closer to home, and we can do that by spreading new social norms. If I believe my friends or neighbours will do something, then I will too. We can see this, for instance, when looking at the installation of rooftop solar panels. They are spreading from neighbour to neighbour like a virus. It’s contagious. This is the power of peer-to-peer that creates a new normal. 

2 – Supportive

Rather than backfiring frames such as disaster and cost, we can reframe climate as being really about human health, for instance, with plant-based delicious burgers, good for you and good for the climate. We can also reframe climate as being about new tech opportunities, about safety and about new jobs. Solar jobs, for instance, are seeing an amazing growth.  Psychology says, in order to create engagement, we should present, on balance, three positive or supportive framings for each climate threat we mention. 

3 – Simple

By creating better choice architecture, we can make the climate-friendly behaviours default and convenient. This is often called nudging. Take for example food waste. Food waste at buffets goes way down if the plate or the box size is reduced a little, because on the smaller plate it looks full but in the big box it looks half empty, so we put more in. So smaller plates make a big difference for food waste. And there are hundreds of smart nudges like this.

4 – Signals

It helps enormously to create signals that make our progress visible. Where people may now deny climate change because they feel powerless, they can then actively contribute to solving the problem. Suppose you can monitor that your footprint in the field of transport is changing due to other choices, or that the energy wastage in an office is reduced. The registration of actions and results motivates and activates.

5 – Story-based

Finally we need better stories. Our brain loves stories. So we need better stories of where we all want to go, and we need more stories of the heroes and heroines that are making real change happen. The new psychology of climate action lies in letting go, not of science, but of the crutches of abstractions and doomism, and then choosing to tell the new stories. These are the stories of how we achieve drawdown, the reversing of global warming. These are the stories of the steps we take as peoples, cities, companies and public bodies.